The year 1984 in vinyl comes to you in two parts; not because 1984 was a particularly good year — it wasn’t — but because to me it was two years in one. For eight months I lived in South Africa; then I moved to London via a two-month European road trip. Part 1 concern itself with the South African half of 1984.
I see 1984 as the year that gave rise to the corporate mega-star. Michael Jackson’s Thriller had hit big in 1983 and was still hitting big, Lionel Richie’s Can’t Slow Down was mega big, Bruce Springsteen turned out his most commercial album, Prince donned the dandyish purple and became an icon, in Britain Wham! and Duran Duran hit heights of superstardom, U2 hit their stride, and towards the end of the year Madonna released an album that would turn her into the quintessential 1980s star.
It all felt artificial, even if not all of it was. While Springsteen must have been aware that he was putting out a commercial album, most of the songs wouldn’t have been out of place on The River four years earlier — but I don’t think he knew just how stratospheric it would go . And I defy anyone to claim that Prince compromised his art for anything. Rather, it was the corporate icon-building, as if music was a Hollywood dream machine from the 1930s, that felt artificial.
And music has never recovered the already compromised innocence it lost in the mid-80s. There were moments in the ‘90s when it felt it might do so. The grunge scene was a rebellion to the corporate hi-jack of music. Hip hop offered an antidote. But the corporates simply poisoned the well by co-opting whom they could or promoting hack acts to replace those who were threatening the hegemony.
Now nobody threatens the hegemony any longer. We have our megastars and they hang around longer than their ancestors did. In the past, a teen star like Justin Bieber would have been off the scene the moment his fans grew pubic hair. Now he has unlimited shelf life, a star for the sake of being a star. The process of raising and maintaining stardom is driven by image management; new blood is added as needed, but the process is entirely in corporate hands. And 1984 was a watershed in the inexorable process that, of course, had begun much earlier.This collection, and certainly the second part, would better be called “A Life in Cassette Tapes”. Of the 19 tracks here, I had five on record (Grandmaster & Melle Mel, Tubes, Cars, Style Council on LP; Frankie on 12”. And I bought the Sade LP as a present for my sister). The rest I had on tape — bought or taped off records. Once I had a car, having stuff on tape was necessary.
As always, I don’t endorse everything on these mixes which are supposed to evoke that particular year for me. I can’t say many good things about Laura Branigan’s Italo-pop hit other than that hearing it takes me back to the driver seat of the blue Beetle I was driving in 1984. But I am also cheating a little by omission. When I think of May 1984, I might also think Matthew Wilder’s The Kid’s American, a song so bad I really cannot inflict it on you, no matter what other liberties I’m taking here. There are a few others. Ollie & Jerry’s breakdancing anthem Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us anyone? But I do include as a bonus track Break Machine’s rather good Street Dance, because breakdancing mattered.
Some songs here have personal meaning, a couple of them deeply emotional (including the Chris Rea sing), others quite comedic. On the latter front, the Thompson Twins’ Doctor Doctor represents a series of songs, which also included the two Jumps by van Halen and the Pointer Sisters, that soundtracked my curation of my younger brother’s first drunken barroom adventure. It culminated in little brother covering the interior of my friend’s car in vomit. To his credit, my friend took it in good spirits and cleaned the car while I put little brother to bed.
I might also have included Phil Collins’ Against All Odds, which accompanied the sound of my first broken heart, or Prince’s When Doves Cry, which excited me like no other song that year (Prince didn’t like his stuff to be featured on the web, so I’ll leave that one out). I went to see Purple Rain at the movies in consecutive screenings. The only other time I did that was later in the year, with the infinitely greater Once Upon A Time In America. I also watched the Sylvester Stallone & Dolly Parton vehicle Rhinestone twice in a day, first in the afternoon on my own and in the evening with friends, but let’s leave that bizarre decision alone. (Apparently Stallone turned down leads in Romancing the Stone and Beverly Hills Cop to film Rhinestone!).
I might have bought the Sade album for my sister but I loved it. I was torn about whether to include Your Love Is King or her wonderful cover version of Timmy Thomas’ Why Can’t We Live Together. Soul music gets short shrift on this mix. I also would have liked to include Patrice Rushen’s Feel So Real, Deniece William’s Let’s Hear It for the Boy or Cherelle’s I Didn’t Mean To Turn You On (later a hit for Robert Palmer).
As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R and includes covers. PW in comments.
1. Grandmaster & Melle Mel – White Lines
2. Via Afrika – Hey Boy
3. The Tubes – She’s A Beauty
4. The Cars – You Might Think
5. Snowy White – Bird Of Paradise
6. Marillion – Punch And Judy
7. Style Council – You’re The Best Thing
8. Re-flex – The Politics Of Dancing
9. Frankie Goes To Hollywood – Two Tribes
10. Alphaville – Big In Japan
11. Nena – 99 Luftballons
12. Ultravox – Dancing With Tears In My Eyes
13. Bronski Beat – Smalltown Boy
14. Evelyn Thomas – High Energy
15. Thompson Twins – Doctor Doctor
16. Sade – Your Love Is King
17. Laura Branigan – Self Control
18. Chris Rea – I Don’t Know What It Is (But I Love It)
19. Mel Brooks – To Be Or Not To Be
Bonus Track: Break Machine – Street Dance